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Marks: Tickets issued for jaywalking misplaced

BY GUEST OPINION | SEPTEMBER 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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On Sept. 5 at approximately 3:54 p.m., as I walked along Clinton Street on my way home from work, another horridly dull and mildly depressing day behind me, I was jarred from my stupor by the sight of two police officers sternly accosting a girl, young and crying. 

Their conversation revealed that she had jaywalked and was going to receive an $80 fine — despite her protests that she had crossed the street before the light had changed and there were no cars on the street.

Her ticket was quickly followed by tickets issued to a woman with two children, a couple of dudes, and another young woman in the span of five minutes. This highly visible and public “crackdown” on the perceived threat of jaywalking, as with other gestures toward public safety in Iowa City, is an overly punitive, misplaced, and ultimately useless action.

Let’s be very clear: I am not denying that Iowa City has a jaywalking “problem,” nor am I denying that it poses a danger to both motorists and pedestrians. There is an unsettling number of people who, distracted by their electronic gadgets or just too cool to care about the world around them, blithely strut into an intersection, traffic be damned, people who ought to be ticketed for being a**holes. 

But I would venture that for every one reckless person, there are three, perhaps as many as five, who may jaywalk but do so after looking both ways and gauging the speed and distance of traffic — you know, critical thinking. Those are the people who were punished on Sept. 5, and not just punished but also humiliated, lectured, and condescended to. Yes, they absolutely broke the law, but the response — aggressive, over-the-top, verging on pompous — amounts to little more than posturing and a flexing of muscles.

It also neglects more pressing dangers for pedestrians. According to the Department of Transportation, there were exactly zero pedestrian fatalities between 2006 and 2010 in Johnson County. Indeed, fewer than 10 percent of pedestrian injuries and fatalities that do occur are at crosswalks like the Iowa City police stakeout. Rather, nearly half are a result of a lack of adequate (or any) sidewalks, speed limits of 30 mph or higher, poor or unmarked crossing areas, and failure to yield by motorists. 

Furthermore, many drivers in Iowa City, including police, seem to forget that, as per Iowa law, “where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection” (Section 321.327 Code of Iowa). 

A perfect example of this is the intersection of Dodge and Washington Streets, which many others and I have to navigate every day.

It is unmarked, obscured by shrubs and trees, and uphill, meaning that more often than not, motorists accelerate as they approach.

After three years of living in the area, I have never seen anywhere near the dedication to pedestrian safety as was on display Sept. 5. We are tasked to survive a dangerous intersection without assistance, relying on our own judgment and intuition; yet this same decision-making is a fineable offense just six blocks west.

To be clear again: This is not to say that regulations regarding jaywalking are wrong or that they should be discarded.

They are very necessary. However, the arbitrary, random, and heavy-handed enforcement of this rule in an area largely used by students is absurd and smells of an intimidation tactic.

Jesse Marks
UI senior


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